Where to Begin – An Interview With Author Georgann Prochaska
With a new year come lots of new beginnings. Author Georgann Prochaska talks about how she begins a story and how important good beginnings are. Georgann holds a degree in literature, taught high school English classes for 34 years, and has published seven books since 2014.
How does the beginning of a book idea come to you?
I usually begin with a what-if. What would happen if after a woman’s death, her family publishes 20 years of her private correspondence with neighbors to a blog? Or what if a vulnerable person like a migrant worker’s child or a homeless woman who lives in a vineyard holds valuable information about a murder? For me, mysteries begin with discomfort.
- What do the beginnings of your stories have to include?
A problem (not necessarily murder), and sleuths to swing into action. I ask myself what determines a character’s response. For example: Madtree begins with a delayed wedding, the arrival of police cars, some guests not what the bride expected, and the groom’s odd behavior. What causes unusual behaviors? Luckily, a posse of friends stands ready to snoop.
- Why are beginnings so important?
Readers of mysteries like to be drawn into the action of a story—who to suspect and who to root for. Dog lovers connect with Audrey the bloodhound, and I hope, therefore, trust Alice, the leading grandma sleuth. At the beginning, I try to concentrate on a problem-solving action (where did the elderly man with Alzheimer’s go?) and leave the descriptive passages until later.
- Each following chapter has a beginning as well. How do you integrate or transition into next chapters?
Mysteries have suspects to be explored. To narrow the field of possible murderers, amateur sleuths poke into everyone’s uncomfortable history with the deceased and their ability to commit the murder. A sleuth makes many passes at a suspect while trying to solve whodunit and why.
- The end of your teaching career launched a new beginning for you as a writer. Why did you wait?
I always wrote stories even as I taught in high school, but teaching was more important. Most of those early pieces were tossed because I had no time to edit. What I kept had to do with family stories that moved me: finding a new home in America, fighting in the Civil War, and oddly enough, recipes.
- How do you begin your typical day as a writer?
I write or edit almost every day, but I don’t have a schedule. Sometimes writing happens in the middle of the night. I generally know where to resume the story because I stop before completing a scene. That creates an urgency for me to complete that segment.
- What advice do you have for writers who start something new but get frustrated and procrastinate over finishing it?
If someone is frustrated, I’d ask if they still love the idea of their story. If so, I’d suggest they read the chapters or scenes in reverse order. Which bits deserve earlier development? Which question still doesn’t have an answer? Is there a character who is nagging to be introduced into the story? Does the story begin with the right action? Reading in reverse order can reveal holes in the storytelling and will maybe jumpstart the author’s writing.
- How important is it to belong to a local creative community?
I particularly like when members of a writing group summarize what they took from my stories because hopefully everything is spot on, but more than likely as I listen to the group, I target words that require change or passages to be cut. I appreciate that in BWW’s approach that readers speak; writers stay silent. Silence allows me to be more open to making changes because I don’t have to defend them. Sometimes favorite passages hit the dustbin.
- Will you be doing anything fresh as a writer to jumpstart the new year?
In my mind, I always have a set up for a short story or poem. Playing with a short topic sometimes triggers an idea for a mystery. When I look for a new topic of mystery, I search through old genealogy or old newspapers. Maybe my next writing will be historical. Will all the pieces fall together? We’ll see.